49 Degrees: Canadian Pagan Perspectives
Canadian Paganism has a style all its own. Have a look at events, issues, celebrations, people, trends and events north of the border from the eyes of a Canadian Witch.
Sun Wheel Pagan Arts Festival 2013
On the July 1st long weekend, I celebrated Canada Day by driving 10 hours to Drayton Valley, Alberta, to pitch a tent in a mosquito-infested field. I left late, of course; I never seem to get out on time. I didn't want to be late because even though the Sun Wheel Pagan Arts Festival didn't officially begin until the following day, on the Friday evening there was a firewalk scheduled and I had never done such a thing. I came with my husband Erin and my young boyfriend Chad McLeary, also scheduled to perform on the stage. I was quite honoured to be part of such a prestigious line-up; the roster included Vanessa Cardui, current bardic champion of the Kingdom of AnTir, an up-and-coming artist who also does medieval music like me; my friends from the Edmonton Pagan Choir and Chalice and Blade; the legendary Sharon Knight; and the indomitable Heather Dale.
But I shouldn't have worried. Pagan Standard Time being what it is, things were running about the two hours late that I had left the house by, so I had just enough time to set up camp before hurrying off to the ritual.
"Shouldn't we have brought some burn cream, just in case?" Chad fretted. This was his first Pagan festival. He was not intending to participate in the firewalk; the concern was for me.
I laughed aloud. "That would be exactly the wrong attitude," I explained. "It's like in 'The Name of the Wind'. Alar; focus. If I brought the burn cream, it would guarantee that I would get burned." He seemed skeptical but said nothing.
My gentlemen accompanied me to the ritual. Erin, being disabled and having a prosthetic leg, was not going to participate either. I think they both held their breath as I kicked off my shoes, and encouraged by the drum beat, stepped first onto a bed of broken glass. Obeying the instructions I stepped carefully and deliberately and did not shift my feet. I felt as though I was floating above the glass, so clear was my focus. At the end of the journey, they wiped my feet clean of the glass before I returned to the earth, and everyone applauded. I took up my drum to encourage others to do the same. I recognized maybe a third of the gathering; unusual, since I regularly attend events in the Edmonton area. I started greeting old friends and looked forward to meeting new ones.
By the time the coals were suited to the firewalk it was full dark. Erin, having driven most of the way after staying up all night so we could leave at 4 am (and then of course we didn't,) went to the van to sleep while Chad and I moved along to the firepit. I stripped out of my skirt and stood there with my drum in the line. It has already started by the time I got things organized so I missed the instructions. I stepped out onto the fire with the rhythm of my drum and I think I was walking too slowly, so I actually felt the heat. I chose to go back for another round because I wasn't happy with that result; and this time, things were perfect. I spent some time snuggling with my relieved gentlemen and fell asleep fairly quickly.
Wendy Avis of Chalice and Blade took this awesome photo of the embers for her blog, "A Fish and a Bicycle.":
Everything got a late start again in the morning in the hunt for coffee, but I had a chance to chat with Sharon, her partner Winter from the legendary trance rock duo Pandemonaeon, and Heather, as well as my friend Dr. Brendan Myers, flown out to do some talks before the music began. I made it out to the women's ritual and briefly met Vanessa when she announced that she was never intending to get old; to which I quipped, "Good luck with that!"
I was fairly relaxed because we were not scheduled to play until Sunday, so when Ed Van Der Zouwen, owner of Where Faeries Live (one of the sponsors and organizers, the other being Northern Tribes Pagan Radio Edmonton,) needed some things from town, we were happy to go and get them, along with what we needed. It was three hours later by the time we got back and I had just enough time to get my shop set up before a massive storm blew in (just about the time that the music was scheduled to start.) Welcome to Alberta!
When the storm showed no signs of letting up an hour later, we closed the store down completely and made our way to the central cookhouse; where a legendary jam session was just getting underway. Deprived of the chance to play the stage, the musicians had gathered in the cookhouse, and Celtic ceileigh style, were taking turns playing their stuff. Even Brendan, also an accomplished musician, was getting into it. Eagerly I grabbed my drum and my guitar and stood quietly at the side of the picnic table and ledge behind that the musicians had made into an impromptu stage. It warmed my heart when Heather, reclined on the ledge with her bodhran in her lap, saw me there and announced, "Sable's here; we haven't heard from Sable yet!" Mo Jo shoved over to give me room, and I stood up on the table and played "The Dark Lady." Sharon asked me for the lyrics.
I was distinctly reminded of the bardic fires of my SCA days; and not having played in a long time, I found I distinctly missed it. Chad played one of his wittier tunes, "A Cautionary Song," Brendan played two of his pieces from "The Island," and Sharon played her classic "Mother of the World." Heather played along with everyone else and with great humility, never once took the lead role that night.
After a time, the bands who were supposed to play that night took the stage and the rest of us bowed out; until only Vanessa and her ensemble were left. They played their whole set, and a song from Vanessa's days as part of the band "Heroincredible" called "Dragon-Slayer," which was at my request. Little did I know that they had been through a miserable experience; getting lost on their way to the site, blowing a tire when they'd gone into town that day. You never would know it; they all just kept smiling and did their thing, which was damn impressive and gave me a little stage fright. I didn't find out about any of this until I read Vanessa's blog after the event. The only effect that it seemed to have was to make her come across as more serious than she turned out to be when I spoke with her over Facebook chat later.
A bunch of us (Heather, Sharon, Winter, Chad, Erin, Brendan and Wendy) ended up in Mo Jo and his fiance Sparrow's (co-hosts of The Wigglian Way Podcast) encampment because we all knew Mo Jo from different circles, and we all continued to sing together (Erin also being a musician) in the ceileigh way late into the night, our songs degenerating into more and more ribald tunes, not limited strictly to a Pagan milieu.
The next day was sunny and blisteringly hot! Terry (Northern Tribes) and Ed decided we would start with the performances at 11 am and go through the entire roster until we were done, with Brendan doing his second talk afterwards. He was good-natured about it and willing to bow out in favor of the music. I thought this was an excellent plan to be sure that everyone got to be heard, and I started warming up since I was doing a duet in Chad's act and he was second, with me following him. I set up my video camera and secured everyone's permission to record it all, then upload it to my YouTube channel. (This is the source of the video links that will follow in the text. I have recorded everyone's entire performance so you will likely have to come back to see it all more than once. I'll include a link to the whole playlist at the end of the article.)
Chalice and Blade of Vancouver, BC, led the pack. Recently reformed as a duo, Wendy Avis and Mo Jo sound as good live as they do on CD. They're working on some new material and you can see them again at Vancouver Pagan Pride Day. Wendy blogged about their experience at Sun Wheel under that hot sun, and you can see that she's a true Canadian; there's a picture of her singing away with a mosquito biting her eyebrow! You can find their music on CD Baby.
This was Chad McLeary's debut performance, aside from when he joined me for my "Pyrates & Pagans CD Release Party." He had a rough day. We lost his lyric sheets on the way from our homes in Vernon, BC somewhere and to be fair, his set started at high noon, and he confessed to me afterwards that he was feeling faint from the blistering intensity of the heat. But he handled it well; well enough that after the performance, Brendan Myers, who had ended up with Chad the previous night regaling us with Beetles duets in the cookhouse after we toddled off from Mo Jo's camp to find sleep (and got waylaid,) looked me in the eye and informed me, "He's good." I agreed. Chad came home and set up a Facebook page, a Twitter account, and a Reverbnation page. It's just getting started, but watch it well over the next few months!
I was next. I won't review my own performance, but aside from a few minor flubs I felt good about it. The heat was intense enough to make my strings wet with sweat, enough that a couple of chords slipped. Heather and Vanessa were in the audience and I got the feeling that they were really grooving with what I was doing, which made me happy, since I admire them both so much. If you want to find my stuff, I have a website, a Reverbnation page, a Bandcamp page and a YouTube channel. I'll be joining Chalice and Blade at Vancouver Pagan Pride if you're in the area and want to see me.
Vanessa Cardui from Calgary, AB, followed me with her amazing vocal ensemble. I was enchanted. You can find her music at Reverbnation, Bandcamp, and her website. You should know that the lovely silver-haired violinist on the right is Sora, and though I don't think she would describe herself as a Pagan musician (she's a friend of Vanessa's from the SCA, I think,) she's a recording artist in her own right who is quietly collecting well-deserved critical acclaim. You should check out her site.
The Edmonton Pagan Choir has never performed for an audience so publicly before. They are directed by Erin Currie and Ed is their liaison. I love what they're doing and I hope to see more of them! They asked me to put them together some sheet music and I'm going to. I used to sing with the swing choir (kind of like a Glee club) in high school and I really miss that too. They are always looking for new members so if you live near Edmonton and you want to get involved, you can find them on Facebook.
Sharon Knight and Winter came all the way from Oakland, California to play for us, and they had to wait until the dinner hour on Sunday to do it. I was a little starstruck but I found them friendly and approachable. Most of this material is from their brand-new album, now in a limited pre-release only available this month at their website or their Bandcamp page. Sharon also has a YouTube channel.
As the sun went down, Heather Dale took the stage at last. She really ought to have been heading up my article on Canadian Pagan Musicians You Won't Want to Miss. The only reason that she didn't is because I didn't know until after I wrote it that she is Canadian! She is a native of Toronto, ON, and has made quite a name for herself in the filk music scene; sci-fi conventions, SCA events, Pagan festivals, and so forth. She's also become quite a phenomenon on YouTube and gained international attention when she challenged YouTube's seeming attempt to ignore her as she asked to be part of the Revenue Share program. Her TED Talk on "Finding Your Tribe" was personally inspirational. I think she's better live than on CD, but you can buy her incredible plethora of music on her website.
The night concluded with Heather coming to meet my star-struck husband, who is a genuine fan (the guy honking the horn in the video because he was watching in our van,) and after that, we headed out for a long nighttime drive back to BC. Over the course of the event, I traded CDs with most of the other artists, save Chad and the Choir who haven't released one, and Chalice and Blade, because I already have both of their albums, and we listened to them with silent appreciation on the journey home through the mountains. I also traded contact information with Vanessa and Heather, and left feeling that I had made genuine friends there! And good things have come of it. There's talk about producing a Canadian Pagan music anthology . . . nothing's definite yet, but stay tuned!
If you missed this event, you missed an experience! I certainly will be back!
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